Graduation party season is revving up. If you're hosting a soiree for a new grad, especially if it's an open house, you're probably trying to cook up some ideas that will stretch over many hours and satisfy a crowd of -- well, who knows who might show up?
One trick is to bring the guests in on the action with stations or bars where they can assemble their own dishes. (You don't want to spend four years putting that party together, do you?) And you can give the whole thing a special touch with sweets that look like graduation caps and sandwiches wrapped like diplomas.
So, here are 12 ideas for a carefree Class of '12 celebration.
-- Graduation Caps: Use a mini peanut butter cup as the base (flipped over). Put a dab of frosting or melted chocolate on top and stick on a thin chocolate- or fudge-covered graham cracker cookie. Put another dab of frosting in the center of the cookie; put a mini chocolate chip or M&M in the center. Attach a licorice strip or fruit roll strip for the tassel.
-- S'mores Bar: Use Sterno set in rocks for the heat source to melt the marshmallows. Have plenty of craft sticks and set out individual trays of graham crackers, a variety of chocolate squares and marshmallows.
-- Chocolate Cheesecake Bars: Double a cheesecake recipe and make on a large sheet tray. Cut bars into 1-inch squares; they're rich, so that's all you need.
-- Pulled Pork Sliders: So popular and so easy. Just remember the pork needs long, slow cooking. Prep it the night before, cook it early in the day and reheat before guests arrive.
-- Coleslaw: Serve as a salad on its own or use to top the Pulled Pork Sliders. Mix 2 pounds shredded cabbage with shredded carrots, chopped green onions. Mix 3 cups mayonnaise with 1/4 cup vinegar, 1 teaspoon celery seeds, 1 tablespoon sugar, plus salt and pepper.
-- Meatballs: Make your own or buy a bag, but try something different with the sauce. An apple glaze is a welcome change. Use ground beef, chicken or turkey for the meatballs.
-- Chicken Wings or Taco Bar: Bake a big batch of wings and set out different sauces (hot pepper, sweet or smoky barbecue, soy-honey-ginger). Or set out all the fixings for a taco bar with corn and flour tortillas, cheeses, cooked ground beef, shredded lettuce and salsa.
-- Diploma Sandwiches: Wrap thin slices of deli meats and cheeses in flour tortillas. Use a chive to tie the sandwich together, diploma-style. Soak the chives first in warm water so they're pliable.
-- Mini Taco Bowl Appetizers: Thaw mini phyllo cups and add a teaspoon of Hidden Valley Fiesta Ranch dip mix made with sour cream to each. Top with shredded lettuce, cheese and a quarter of a grape tomato.
-- Layered Hummus Dip: Spread store-bought hummus on a plate or shallow dish; top with layers of chopped sun-dried tomatoes, kalamata olives and crumbled cheese.
-- Molded Macaroni Salad: Instead of putting your favorite macaroni salad in a bowl, put it in a Bundt pan or other mold. Refrigerate overnight before inverting on a serving tray.
-- Marinated Pasta Salad: Blanch broccoli and cauliflower for 2 minutes. Drain. Mix with olives, sliced red onion, cooked pasta and Italian dressing. Let sit overnight so flavors come together.
Sources: Pinterest, www.tasteofhome.com, www.divinedinnerparty.com, Free Press Test Kitchen.